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Is cannabis harmless?

Very few people attending the Rutland Centre in Dublin would agree that cannabis is a harmless drug, according to head of treatment services, Austin Prior.

“I think it is scary that this myth exists,” he says. “I see young lads coming in here suffering from the effects of long-term cannabis use who are completely de-motivated, suffering from severe depression and even psychosis. The long-term impact is huge and in the short term there are problems with memory loss and distorted perceptions of reality.”

“What I would like to know”, said cannnabis activist Norris Nuvo , “is how he can differentiate any possible negative effects of cannabis when his clients are multi drug users, including Alcohol, Cocaine and Heroin in their mix of ingested drugs. All of which could cause depression, de-motivation and psychosis?”

He perpetuates the disproved ‘gateway’ theory but never mentions that in the most cases the first drugs that are consumed in our society are tobacco and alcohol. Mr Prior continues by repeating parrot fashion, “If you talk to a person with a drug addiction, cannabis, was almost always the starting point.”

Mr Prior, who is not a qualified doctor or medical researcher, yet continues to say that withdrawal symptoms from cannabis use can be severe. This flies in the face of qualified research, which has accepted that cannabis is non-addictive.

This unfounded and inaccurate outburst from Mr Prior is typical of so many statements made by unqualified people who ‘join in’ the cannabis debate hoping to see their name in print or to make a name for themselves in the vain hope of promotion within their field or to secure lucrative reward.

The harm that is done to the debate on medical cannabis by unqualified and convoluted statements like this is immense. People like Mr Prior, who also states that cannabis is not a ‘healthy’ option for medical use, should maybe talk to people who benefit from the use of cannabis before opening his mouth.

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A 2007 Cardiff University study published in The Lancet concluded that the risk of psychotic episodes increases by 40 per cent in people who have used cannabis and by up to 200 per cent among the most frequent users. The report’s authors also estimated that 14 per cent of schizophrenia cases in young adults could be prevented if cannabis was not available.

Although few of those attending the Rutland Centre for help with addiction are there purely because of cannabis use, it is almost always a factor in the wider abuse of drugs, says Prior.

“If you talk to a person with a drug addiction, cannabis, was almost always the starting point.”

Withdrawal symptoms from cannabis use can be severe, says Prior, which flies in the face of a widely held view that it is not an addictive drug. In fact, cannabis use is associated with behaviour that meets the criteria for substance dependence established by the American Psychiatric Association.

The “harmless” reputation is enhanced by the debate over whether to legalise cannabis for medicinal use, says Prior, with the debate itself helping to create an impression that the drug is “healthy” in certain circumstances.

“There is evidence now which shows that in states in the US where they have made it legal for medicinal use, they have increased problematic and illegal use of the drug.”

www.irishtimes.com

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